Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Interestings

The Interestings
Meg Wolitzer

First Sentence
"On a warm night in early July of that long-evaporated year, the Interestings gathered for the very first time."
Publisher's Description:
From bestselling author Meg Wolitzer a dazzling, panoramic novel about what becomes of every talent, and the roles that art, money, and even envy can play in close friendships.

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable.  Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed.  In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence.  Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle.  Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer.  But Ethan and Ash, Jules's now-married best friends, become shockingly successful--true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding.  The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken. 

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.  (Published 2013)

Dear Reader,

There were parts of this book that I loved, and parts that were very good.  Ultimately, it didn't earn itself status in my Favorite Books Ever category, but I really enjoyed the read.  (Well, actually, the listen - the narrator was great at creating and maintaining distinguishing voices for everyone!)  It's interesting how identifiable I found it, despite that the characters were graduating from high school in the early 70s, not the late 90s.

This book recalled to me the sweeping, multi-generational epics of a John Irving novel, complete with the way smaller stories were told in amongst the larger ones.  All of the characters were enjoyable to read about, and it was fascinating to watch as their lives collided, moved apart, and then wove back together, again and again.  I suppose "The Interestings" was an apt title, since the characters' lives were certainly interesting - I didn't want to put the book down, because it was very well-written.  However, naming the entire book after a group that called itself that only once or twice over decades, that was a little odd.  I suppose it really was the one thing that tied them all together - and pretty loosely, at that.  I recall at one point the author having Jules ponder whether they would have all been friends in their adult lives, not having met when they were teenagers.  That's always an interesting thought to ponder, as our friendships progress through years.

That reminds me: I have to say, part of what I loved about this story was the nostalgia factor!  I too attended a summer arts camp when I was a teenager, and forged some extremely strong friendships of my own, there.  The memories Jules has of her last days at camp, with everyone upset to be leaving this place that was so theirs - I remember that feeling vividly.  While we'd only spent 5 weeks together, it was an experience that had changed our young lives, and one which we didn't want to end.  So, part of what I loved about this book was the common feelings I could share with Jules, in her long-lasting nostalgia for a place and time which she could not ever truly return to.

The characters themselves were quite distinct and strongly written.  Their stories became the reader's stories, and you truly cared about what happened.  Did Goodman truly rape their now-former cohort?  Did his connection with Ash really help Ethan skyrocket to success, while Jules and Dennis struggled to make ends meet?  And Jonah, poor, sad Jonah - what could his life have been without the marring influence of a has-been folk singer?

I think this book is a great study in characters and friendships as they grow and change from adolescence through adulthood.  The push and pull of relationships, of envy, of conditional and unconditional love.  I think it will ring true to anyone who has reached adulthood, but feels like maybe they never really did.


P.S. Reading the Publisher's Description of the book over again reminded me that I kept thinking throughout the book of another book I read this year, called Generation Me. It was a non-fiction work about how children these days are encouraged to pursue their dreams, even if they don't necessarily have the talent or the luck for it.  This seemed to kind of be the case with this group of people; some had "it" and others did not.  And their lives worked out quite differently than they had thought they might when they were young.  Granted, this often happens whether a person is told they are "gifted" or not, but this book strongly reminded me of the arguments Jean M. Twenge makes in her book.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...